Possibility for more city revenue from fire cost recovery

Lisa Goudy
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Coun. Brian Swanson and Mayor Deb Higgins consider a report from the Moose Jaw Fire Department at the Dec. 16, 2013 executive committee meeting.

A previously unused revenue source may bring in an additional $50,599 per year.

“The potential is certainly out there to receive a fee or cost recovery for response in the City of Moose Jaw to any fire that we attend,” said Moose Jaw Fire Department (MJFD) chief Rod Montgomery. “Currently we have no method to receive or recover costs associated with fire responses in the City of Moose Jaw. An example of fees that we do recover is from vehicle accidents.”

He said Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) would pay $835 an hour for a “productive call” and $503 an hour for a “non-productive call.” Fire departments can make a claim to SGI for a type of user fee.

Montgomery recommended council enter into a three-year agreement with licensed Canadian company Fire Marque Inc. to recover costs the city can under existing insurance policy.

“Through its Indemnification Technology process, Fire Marque is able to provide funding to fire departments,” said Montgomery. “Fire Marque … specializes in obtaining monies that are currently available to fire departments through homeowner insurance policies in the event of a fire.”

The net benefit impact would be $50,599 based on Fire Marque’s projections. For productive fire response fees, it would be $839 per truck and personnel per hour and any additional costs for each call. Non-productive fire response fees would be $503 per truck and personnel per hour plus any additional costs to the city or the fire department for each call.

An executive report said most insurance companies offer at least $1,000 coverage for a fire or costs related to fighting the fire. Fire Marque would then become the city’s adjuster in the claim. As with any fire, homeowners would be required to co-operate with the fire investigation.

Fire Marque funds are placed into a trust account. They would charge 30 per cent of recovered funds as payment of services and the remaining 70 per cent would be paid to the fire department. Included in the executive agenda package was a letter of recommendation for using Fire Marque from the Township of Essa in Utopia, Ont.

But Coun. Brian Swanson said he had several unanswered questions.

“It’s almost too good to be true that we didn’t realize that we could send a bill to every insurance company. I’d like to know more and I’d like to know does Saskatoon think this is a good idea? Is Regina doing this?” said Swanson. “Is there free money falling from the sky that we’ve just not realized was there? And if so, do we just go with the first guy that comes up and tells us you’ve been missing this for years?”

He added his other issue was some people don’t have a payout to the fire department in their insurance policy.

“Does Fire Marque get to look at my insurance policy?” said Swanson. “I have privacy concerns … I don’t want Fire Marque having access to my insurance policy. So I would think they blanket everybody with a bill and there I see the contradiction is we’re sending out bills, we’re not going to really chase anybody if they don’t pay them.”

Coun. Candis Kirkpatrick said she sees Fire Marque’s services as similar to other unused employment grants.

“There are all kinds of employment grants out there that are never, ever accessed and the government doesn’t come knocking on your doors and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got this money.’ It doesn’t get utilized,” said Kirkpatrick. “I’m seeing it as a no-cost upfront.”

Mayor Deb Higgins said she didn’t want to dismiss the idea or “shut this down right away.”

“We all have a few concerns where it sounds too good to be true it probably is, but maybe not,” she said. “Maybe it’s just something we’ve been missing all along and just haven’t had the expertise to follow up on.”

Executive voted in favour of Coun. Patrick Boyle’s motion to table the information pending a presentation from Fire Marque and more information from either the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). It was passed unanimously.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Fire Marque, Saskatchewan Government Insurance, Moose Jaw Fire Department Indemnification Technology Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatoon

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